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10 Jul '09

Rethinking Church Membership

Posted by T.J. Addington in church, congregationalism, organizational culture

I am a member of my church. It was easy. Give my testimony, agree to some nominal commitments like coming to church on a regular basis and I was in. The bar in my congregation like many is very low but what are the consequences of a low bar?

My question: Why do we have such a low bar for church membership? Jesus does not have a low bar for what it means to be a disciple but we send a different message when we make it easy for people to join our congregations.

Low expectations yield low commitment. High expectations yield high commitment. I suspect that one of the reasons there is such a low level of true followership today is that the church - the bride of Christ has low expectations of those who want to join.

Some churches have recognized this and have called their "participating members" to a higher commitment. They are clear that membership carries with it expectations:
-To give generously
-To attend regularly
-To resolve conflict biblically
-To attend a growth group
-To follow God obediently
-To use their spiritual gifts in ministry

That commitment carries a very different expectation and raises significantly the importance of deciding to become a participating member. Notice the difference between the description of "member" and "participating member." One implies I am in the church. The other, I am an active member of the church. Which description would you rather have?

Some churches are raising the bar even further by asking participating members to "re-up" every year. This is a declaration that I am "all in" on an annual basis and a reminder of what that commitment means. It is not a meaningless "membership card" but a serious commitment to the church and its ministry.

By the way, if you raise the bar you will get push back. Interesting! Why would you get push back for expecting what God would expect of obedient followers? Because we have trained our people that our expectations are low. "You mean, you have expectations of me to be a member? What are you thinking?"

That is precisely why congregations ought to consider raising the bar. It will certainly get people's attention. And you will get the very people that you want in making ministry decisions.

How low or high is your membership bar?